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Instant Coffee: How it’s Made + Everything You Should Know

  • 7 min read

Instant coffee in a cup

It's a common miss-conception that instant coffee isn't 'real coffee'. Though it’s true (in our opinion) that it doesn’t taste as good as fresh bean coffee, instant coffee is “real”. Let me explain:

Instant coffee granules actually start off life as a fully-brewed coffee. Then, one of two different dehydrating methods (freeze or spray drying) are used to reduce the liquid to a solid and dry substance. 

This hardened residue is then broken down into either granules or a micro-grind and subsequently put into jars.

Although the above does sound extremely simple; Make a cup of coffee, dehydrate it and smash it in granules; actually the technology that goes into making instant coffee is far from it.

The capital cost of the machinery needed to produce instant coffee is so high that only a handful of companies actually do it.

The coffee is made in a very similar method to the Stove Top method (Sometimes know as Moka Pots). See below how you can make fresh ground coffee in the same time it takes to make an instant. (Scroll to the bottom to find out)

To begin the roasted coffee beans are ground into fine particles. Exactly how they would be if your local barista was about to make an espresso.

SIDE NOTE: It’s actually this part where instant coffee gets its bad wrap; unfortunately consumers expect their jar of instant coffee to cost £5 or less. To achieve this; the manufacturers need to use cheaply sourced roasted beans.

Over time this has become the norm, which is why your instant will never taste as good as a filter coffee purchased from your local coffee shop.

Large vertical columns filled with the coffee grounds have high pressure boiling water passed through them which extracts the coffee.

The next stage is to dehydrate (take the water out of) the coffee. As we mentioned, there are two methods to do this either spray drying or freeze drying.

The Spray Drying Method

Spray drying coffee

Spray drying is the easiest method and most natural drying process. 

The brewed coffee is sprayed as a fine mist at the top of a large drying tube (known as the evaporation tower). A heat blower at a temperature of more than 200°C blows the coffee down to the bottom of the tower.

This creates a fine, dust-like, powder, which settles at the bottom. 

In the majority of cases some moisture is reintroduced to give the coffee “dust” that granule-like quality we are all used to seeing.

The Freeze Drying Method

Freeze drying - very cold

To freeze dry the brewed coffee, first the coffee must be frozen (was this obvious?). The coffee has an initial freeze of less than -5°C.

This freezing starts to crystallise the coffee which produces a thick coffee syrup.

Now it's time for things to get real cold. The coffee syrup is spread across a conveyor belt which travels through a big freezing tunnel. 

As it passes through, the coffee is chilled down to a staggering -40°C. This final cooling process turns the syrup to a frozen chunk of coffee ice.

As the frozen coffee travels along the conveyor it is smashed up into small granules. 

The granules are then heated again to vaporise the water content. This completely dries the coffee out.

These are the final granules that end up in your cup!

FIND OUT MORE IN THIS ARTICLE ABOUT INSTANT COFFEE

Is fresh ground coffee better than instant coffee?
What is the best instant coffee to buy?
How do I easily make a ‘real’ coffee as fast as I can make an instant?

Is fresh ground coffee better than instant coffee?

We like to remain as impartial as possible when we create information content for you. Therefore taking our bias aside we’ve run through some key factors to help YOU decide which is better:

Firstly you need to decide what “better” means to you...

Health:

There is no evidence that instant coffee poses any health risks. This is evident in that European health regulations allow the sale of instant coffee and have done so for many years.

That being said; for those who wish to reduce the amount of processed food and drink they put into their body may wish to make a switch to fresh ground coffee.

Convenience:

There is no denying that instant coffee is very easy to make. Simply add a teaspoon or two to your cup, boil the kettle and pour. 

However scroll down to below to see how we show you can make a ‘proper’ cup of coffee easily in the same time it takes to make an instant coffee.

Life span:

Instant coffee typically has a best before date of around a year according to the packaging. However it is important to ensure you keep it away from any humidity. Instant coffee tends to clump up in these conditions.

Freshly grounded coffee can last for months. Fresh coffee beans can last for a year.

Taste:

This is where I’m going to struggle to stay objective but here goes. Of course it’s going to be impossible for instant coffee to have the same taste as fresh coffee. By the nature of making instant coffee by adding multiple steps between the brewing process and your cup, the coffee is degraded.

HOWEVER…

As I mentioned above in the section about how instant coffee is made; often quality coffee beans are substituted with cheaper equivalents in order to keep the cost of a jar down to levels consumers are used to paying.

Therefore opting for a slightly more expensive instant coffee can yeild some pretty satisfactory taste.

See below our favorite three instant coffees.

What is the best instant coffee to buy?

As a small business, who love (and sell) fresh ground and whole bean coffee, we’d ofcourse love for you to purchase our coffee.

However we understand that for some people instant coffee is a must, and for others, they simply aren’t ready to make the switch. So here’s our top 3 instants:

1. Nestle Espresso

I’ve personally drunk this Espresso instant coffee for years before I converted to drinking fresh coffee. In my opinion it is the closest to a real coffee tasting instant that you can get, and it really is quite good!

BE CAREFUL: There is a similar jar sold by Nestle which also says “espresso” on the front which is a little cheaper in price. It comes in a larger size also, however it is not the same. I’ve been tricked before into buying a large jar of what I thought was the coffee I enjoyed only to find out it wasn’t the same and is actually quite bad.

Here’s an amazon link to my favorite instant. If you do decide to purchase it through our link below, we will get a small commission, the price is no different for you. Thank you for supporting us by using our link: HERE

2. Nescafé Azura

Another personal favorite that I used to have at my desk at work is the Nescafe Azura instant coffee. Back when I was trying to save some money from visiting our on-site coffee shop, this was my favorite. That was before I bought a single portion cafetire to sit at my desk instead.

Here’s an amazon link to my second favorite instant. If you do decide to purchase it through our link below, we will get a small commission, the price is no different for you. Thank you for supporting us by using our link: HERE

3. Beanies Flavoured Instant Coffee (My fav is vanilla)

Finally (although this is definitely the best flavoured instant), there is a little-well-known brand called Beanies.

They sell a range of flavoured instant coffees which really do pack a sweet punch. My favorite of these is vanilla (Called “Very Vanilla”, but caramel (Called “Creamy Caramel) is also very good.

The amazon link below lets you choose any 3 jars from their collection for under £10 (Price correct as of time of posting).

Here’s an amazon link to my favorite flavoured instant. If you do decide to purchase it through our link below, we will get a small commission, the price is no different for you. Thank you for supporting us by using our link: HERE

How do I easily make a ‘real’ coffee as fast as I can make an instant?

If you are short on time you don’t have to settle for instant coffee if you don’t want to.

Here is how you can make yourself a fresh coffee in the same time it would take to make an instant coffee.

For the quickest way to make a coffee we suggest using a Stove Top (Also known as a Moka Pot). You can buy one from us here

It takes 2-3 minutes to boil the kettle for your instant coffee, which is the same amount of time it takes for a Stove Top to boil your fresh coffee to perfection.

  1. Unscrew top section from bottom and remove the metal coffee filter
  2. Fill the bottom section with water
  3. Place the metal coffee filter back into the bottom section and fill with espresso ground coffee until it is flat with the top of the filter
  4. Screw top section back on and place on the hob
  5. Set hob to high and ensure the handle isn’t over direct heat (Common mistake the people make to burn the handle)
  6. Once the water is boiling the coffee will begin bubble into the top section
  7. When the top section is fully steaming and the coffee reaches the top you are good to go

Looking to make coffee at work? Why not get yourself a small pour-over to sit on top of your cup. 

Place the filter in the top, fill it with a scoop of ground coffee and pour water over the top. The result will be fresh coffee dripping into your cup in less than 5 minutes.

Grab a pour over here.